Frantz: Bad calls by game officials deserve to be criticized publicly

If Darrius Heyward-Bey drops a pass, he gets criticized for it. And rightfully so. If Monta Ellis goes 4-for-21 from the floor with six turnovers, he’s going to be blasted. It goes with the territory. And if Brian Wilson blows a three-run lead in the bottom of the ninth, he’s going to hear about it. All part of the game.

So why is it that when guys like Phil Cuzzi or Marc Curles perform poorly, they’re considered to be off limits — the sacred cows of competitive sports?

In virtually every major sport, game officials have been living inside their protective bubbles for far too long, guarded closely by threats of financial and game punishments against players and coaches who would dare question their judgment or performance.

These guys enjoy more immunity from public criticism, regardless of public incompetence, than President Barack Obama. Well, almost.

In college football, the Southeastern Conference took the overprotection of referees’ feelings to a new level last month, skipping right past verbal reprimands of coaches and moving directly to mandatory fines and suspensions.

The decision came in the wake of numerous missed calls and poor decisions by conference officials this season, which led to critical comments made by several league coaches.

Ironically, it was Urban Meyer’s Florida Gators who benefited from most of the blown calls, yet it was Meyer who took the first $30,000 hit for publicly disagreeing with a non-call on a late hit on his star quarterback.

It was Curles who, one week earlier, threw an unnecessary roughness flag on an Arkansas defensive lineman that kept a crucial Florida drive alive. Upon reviewing the play a few days later, the SEC later conceded that Curles made the wrong call, but nonetheless reprimanded Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino for complaining about it!

Cuzzi was the umpire, working the left-field line in Game 2 of the American League Division Series between the N.Y. Yankees and Minnesota Twins, who stared directly at Joe Mauer’s crucial 11th-inning fly ball, which was fair by a foot, and called it foul.

Crew chief Tim Tschida begged for mercy on Cuzzi’s behalf, telling the media, “Nobody feels worse than the umpire.”

Guess what, Tim: Nobody feels worse than a closer who gives up a game-winning home run, or a field-goal kicker who misses wide right with two seconds left, but their hurt feelings won’t stop people from calling them bums. What makes your guys so different?

It’s high time (not for you, Tim Lincecum) to take officials and umpires off their pedestals. If players and coaches have to face the music when they fail, officials should be no different.

And yes, I know they are graded and sometimes reprimanded for their work behind closed doors, but the punishment of game participants who criticize blatant officiating errors has to end.

Should players be permitted to harass, disrespect or intimidate officials they disagree with during the course of a game? No. But let’s at least give them their constitutional right to free speech when it’s over.

Sports personality Bob Frantz is a regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at bfrantz@sfexaminer.com.

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